Medial prefrontal cortex subserves diverse forms of self-reflection

Soc Neurosci. 2011;6(3):211-8. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2010.507948. Epub 2011 Aug 12.


The ability to think about oneself--to self--reflect--is one of the defining features of the human mind. Recent research has suggested that this ability may be subserved by a particular brain region: the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). However, although humans can contemplate a variety of different aspects of themselves, including their stable personality traits, current feelings, and physical attributes, no research has directly examined the extent to which these different forms of self-reflection are subserved by common mechanisms. To address this question, participants were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while making judgments about their own personality traits, current mental states, and physical attributes as well as those of another person. Whereas some brain regions responded preferentially during only one form of self-reflection, a robust region of MPFC was engaged preferentially during self-reflection across all three types of judgment. These results suggest that--although dissociable--diverse forms of self-referential thought draw on a shared cognitive process subserved by MPFC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ego*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Personality
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Young Adult